NSCalendar Additions

Written by Nate Cook

Dates. More than any other data type, the gulf between the initial banality of dates and their true, multifaceted complexity looms terrifyingly large. Combining sub-second precision, overlapping units, geopolitical time zone boundaries, localization differences in both language and grammar, and Daylight Saving shifts and leap year adjustments that literally add and remove whole chunks of time from measured existence, there’s a lot to process.

To embark on any date-heavy task, then, requires a solid understanding of the tools already at your fingertips. Better to use a Foundation method than to write the n-thousandth version of dateIsTomorrow. Are you using NSDateComponents? Did you specify all the right calendar units? Will your code still work correctly on February 28, 2100?

But here’s the thing: the APIs you’re already using have been holding out on you. Unless you’re digging through release notes and API diffs, you wouldn’t know that over the last few releases of OS X, NSCalendar has quietly built a powerful set of methods for accessing and manipulating dates, and that the latest release brought them all to iOS.

let calendar = NSCalendar.currentCalendar()
NSCalendar *calendar = [NSCalendar currentCalendar];

From new ways of accessing individual date components and flexibly comparing dates to powerful date interpolation and enumeration methods, there’s far too much to ignore. Make some room in your calendar and read on for more.

Convenient Component Access

Oh, NSDateComponents. So practical and flexible, yet so cumbersome when I just. Want to know. What the hour is. NSCalendar to the rescue!

let hour = calendar.component(.CalendarUnitHour, fromDate: NSDate())
NSInteger hour = [calendar component:NSCalendarUnitHour fromDate:[NSDate date]];

That’s much better. NSCalendar, what else can you do?

  • getEra(_:year:month:day:fromDate:): Returns the era, year, month, and day of the given date by reference. Pass nil/NULL for any parameters you don’t need.
  • getEra(_:yearForWeekOfYear:weekOfYear:weekday:fromDate:): Returns the era, year (for week of year), week of year, and weekday of the given date by reference. Pass nil/NULL for any parameters you don’t need.
  • getHour(_:minute:second:nanosecond:fromDate:): Returns time information for the given date by reference. nil/NULL, you get the idea.

And just kidding, NSDateComponents, I take it all back. There are a couple methods for you, too:

  • componentsInTimeZone(_:fromDate:): Returns an NSDateComponents instance with components of the given date shifted to the given time zone.
  • components(_:fromDateComponents:toDateComponents:options:): Returns the difference between two NSDateComponents instances. The method will use base values for any components that are not set, so provide at the least the year for each parameter. The options parameter is unused; pass nil/0.

Date Comparison

While direct NSDate comparison has always been a simple matter, more meaningful comparisons can get surprisingly complex. Do two NSDate instances fall on the same day? In the same hour? In the same week?

Fret no more, NSCalendar has you covered with an extensive set of comparison methods:

  • isDateInToday(_:): Returns true if the given date is today.
  • isDateInTomorrow(_:): Returns true if the given date is tomorrow.
  • isDateInYesterday(_:): Returns true if the given date is a part of yesterday.
  • isDateInWeekend(_:): Returns true if the given date is part of a weekend, as defined by the calendar.
  • isDate(_:inSameDayAsDate:): Returns true if the two NSDate instances are on the same day—delving into date components is unnecessary.
  • isDate(_:equalToDate:toUnitGranularity:): Returns true if the dates are identical down to the given unit of granularity. That is, two date instances in the same week would return true if used with calendar.isDate(tuesday, equalToDate: thursday, toUnitGranularity: .CalendarUnitWeekOfYear), even if they fall in different months.
  • compareDate(_:toDate:toUnitGranularity:): Returns an NSComparisonResult, treating as equal any dates that are identical down to the given unit of granularity.
  • date(_:matchesComponents:): Returns true if a date matches the specific components given.

Date Interpolation

Next up is a set of methods that allows you to find the next date(s) based on a starting point. You can find the next (or previous) date based on an NSDateComponents instance, an individual date component, or a specific hour, minute, and second. Each of these methods takes an NSCalendarOptions bitmask parameter that provides fine-grained control over how the next date is selected, particularly in cases where an exact match isn’t found at first.


The easiest option of NSCalendarOptions is .SearchBackwards, which reverses the direction of each search, for all methods. Backward searches are constructed to return dates similar to forward searches. For example, searching backwards for the previous date with an hour of 11 would give you 11:00, not 11:59, even though 11:59 would technically come “before” 11:00 in a backwards search. Indeed, backward searching is intuitive until you think about it and then unintuitive until you think about it a lot more. That .SearchBackwards is the easy part should give you some idea of what’s ahead.

The remainder of the options in NSCalendarOptions help deal with “missing” time instances. Time can be missing most obviously if one searches in the short window when time leaps an hour forward during a Daylight Saving adjustment, but this behavior can also come into play when searching for dates that don’t quite add up, such as the 31st of February or April.

When encountering missing time, if NSCalendarOptions.MatchStrictly is provided, the methods will continue searching to find an exact match for all components given, even if that means skipping past higher order components. Without strict matching invoked, one of .MatchNextTime, .MatchNextTimePreservingSmallerUnits, and .MatchPreviousTimePreservingSmallerUnits must be provided. These options determine how a missing instance of time will be adjusted to compensate for the components in your request.

In this case, an example will be worth a thousand words:

// begin with Valentine's Day, 2015 at 9:00am
let valentines = cal.dateWithEra(1, year: 2015, month: 2, day: 14, hour: 9, minute: 0, second: 0, nanosecond: 0)!

// to find the last day of the month, we'll set up a date components instance with 
// `day` set to 31:
let components = NSDateComponents()
components.day = 31
NSDate *valentines = [calendar dateWithEra:1 year:2015 month:2 day:14 hour:9 minute:0 second:0 nanosecond:0];

NSDateComponents *components = [[NSDateComponents alloc] init];
components.day = 31;

Using strict matching will find the next day that matches 31, skipping into March to do so:

calendar.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingComponents: components, options: .MatchStrictly)
// Mar 31, 2015, 12:00 AM
NSDate *date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingComponents:components options:NSCalendarMatchStrictly];
// Mar 31, 2015, 12:00 AM

Without strict matching, nextDateAfterDate will stop when it hits the end of February before finding a match—recall that the highest unit specified was the day, so the search will only continue within the next highest unit, the month. At that point, the option you’ve provided will determine the returned date. For example, using .MatchNextTime will pick the next possible day:

calendar.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingComponents: components, options: .MatchNextTime)
// Mar 1, 2015, 12:00 AM
date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingComponents:components options:NSCalendarMatchNextTime];
// Mar 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

Similarly, using .MatchNextTimePreservingSmallerUnits will pick the next day, but will also preserve all the units smaller than the given NSCalendarUnitDay:

calendar.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingComponents: components, options: .MatchNextTimePreservingSmallerUnits)
// Mar 1, 2015, 9:00 AM
date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingComponents:components options:NSCalendarMatchNextTimePreservingSmallerUnits];
// Mar 1, 2015, 9:00 AM

And finally, using .MatchPreviousTimePreservingSmallerUnits will resolve the missing date by going the other direction, choosing the first possible previous day, again preserving the smaller units:

calendar.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingComponents: components, options: .MatchPreviousTimePreservingSmallerUnits)
// Feb 28, 2015, 9:00 AM
date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingComponents:components options:NSCalendarMatchPreviousTimePreservingSmallerUnits];
// Feb 28, 2015, 9:00 AM

Besides the NDateComponents version shown here, it’s worth noting that nextDateAfterDate has two other variations:

// matching a particular calendar unit
cal.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingUnit: .CalendarUnitDay, value: 31, options: .MatchStrictly)
// March 31, 2015, 12:00 AM

// matching an hour, minute, and second
cal.nextDateAfterDate(valentines, matchingHour: 15, minute: 30, second: 0, options: .MatchNextTime)
// Feb 14, 2015, 3:30 PM
// matching a particular calendar unit
date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingUnit:NSCalendarUnitDay value:31 options:NSCalendarMatchStrictly];
// March 31, 2015, 12:00 AM

// matching an hour, minute, and second
date = [calendar nextDateAfterDate:valentines matchingHour:15 minute:30 second:0 options:NSCalendarMatchNextTime];
// Feb 14, 2015, 3:30 PM

Enumerating Interpolated Dates

Rather than using nextDateAfterDate iteratively, NSCalendar provides an API for enumerating dates with the same semantics. enumerateDatesStartingAfterDate(_:matchingComponents:options:usingBlock:) computes the dates that match the given set of components and options, calling the provided closure with each date in turn. The closure can set the stop parameter to true, thereby stopping the enumeration.

Putting this new NSCalendarOptions knowledge to use, here’s one way to list the last fifty leap days:

let leapYearComponents = NSDateComponents()
leapYearComponents.month = 2
leapYearComponents.day = 29

var dateCount = 0
cal.enumerateDatesStartingAfterDate(NSDate(), matchingComponents: leapYearComponents, options: .MatchStrictly | .SearchBackwards) 
{ (date: NSDate!, exactMatch: Bool, stop: UnsafeMutablePointer<ObjCBool>) in

    if ++dateCount == 50 {
        // .memory gets at the value of an UnsafeMutablePointer
        stop.memory = true
// 2012-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2008-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2004-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2000-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// ...
NSDateComponents *leapYearComponents = [[NSDateComponents alloc] init];
leapYearComponents.month = 2;
leapYearComponents.day = 29;

__block int dateCount = 0;
[calendar enumerateDatesStartingAfterDate:[NSDate date]
                                 options:NSCalendarMatchStrictly | NSCalendarSearchBackwards
                              usingBlock:^(NSDate *date, BOOL exactMatch, BOOL *stop) {
    NSLog(@"%@", date);
    if (++dateCount == 50) {
        *stop = YES;
// 2012-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2008-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2004-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// 2000-02-29 05:00:00 +0000
// ...

Working for the Weekend

If you’re always looking forward to the weekend, look no further than our final two NSCalendar methods:

  • nextWeekendStartDate(_:interval:options:afterDate): Returns the starting date and length of the next weekend by reference via the first two parameters. This method will return false if the current calendar or locale doesn’t support weekends. The only relevant option here is .SearchBackwards. (See below for an example.)
  • rangeOfWeekendStartDate(_:interval:containingDate): Returns the starting date and length of the weekend containing the given date by reference via the first two parameters. This method returns false if the given date is not in fact on a weekend or if the current calendar or locale doesn’t support weekends.

Localized Calendar Symbols

As if all that new functionality wasn’t enough, NSCalendar also provides access to a full set of properly localized calendar symbols, making possible quick access to the names of months, days of the week, and more. Each group of symbols is further enumerated along two axes: (1) the length of the symbol and (2) its use as a standalone noun or as part of a date.

Understanding this second attribute is extremely important for localization, since some languages, Slavic languages in particular, use different noun cases for different contexts. For example, a calendar would need to use one of the standaloneMonthSymbols variants for its headers, not the monthSymbols that are used for formatting specific dates.

For your perusal, here’s a table of all the symbols that are available in NSCalendar—note the different values for standalone symbols in the Russian column:

  en_US ru_RU
monthSymbols January, February, March… января, февраля, марта…
shortMonthSymbols Jan, Feb, Mar… янв., февр., марта…
veryShortMonthSymbols J, F, M, A… Я, Ф, М, А…
standaloneMonthSymbols January, February, March… Январь, Февраль, Март…
shortStandaloneMonthSymbols Jan, Feb, Mar… Янв., Февр., Март…
veryShortStandaloneMonthSymbols J, F, M, A… Я, Ф, М, А…
weekdaySymbols Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… воскресенье, понедельник, вторник, среда…
shortWeekdaySymbols Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed… вс, пн, вт, ср…
veryShortWeekdaySymbols S, M, T, W… вс, пн, вт, ср…
standaloneWeekdaySymbols Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Воскресенье, Понедельник, Вторник, Среда…
shortStandaloneWeekdaySymbols Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed… Вс, Пн, Вт, Ср…
veryShortStandaloneWeekdaySymbols S, M, T, W… В, П, В, С…
AMSymbol AM AM
PMSymbol PM PM
quarterSymbols 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, 4th quarter 1-й квартал, 2-й квартал, 3-й квартал, 4-й квартал
shortQuarterSymbols Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 1-й кв., 2-й кв., 3-й кв., 4-й кв.
standaloneQuarterSymbols 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, 4th quarter 1-й квартал, 2-й квартал, 3-й квартал, 4-й квартал
shortStandaloneQuarterSymbols Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 1-й кв., 2-й кв., 3-й кв., 4-й кв.
eraSymbols BC, AD до н. э., н. э.
longEraSymbols Before Christ, Anno Domini до н.э., н.э.

Note: These same collections are also available via NSDateFormatter.

Your Weekly Swiftification

It’s becoming something of a feature here at NSHipster to close with a slightly Swift-ified version of the discussed API. Even in this brand-new set of NSCalendar APIs, there are some sharp edges to be rounded off, replacing UnsafeMutablePointer parameters with more idiomatic tuple return values.

With a useful set of NSCalendar extensions (gist here), the component accessing and weekend finding methods can be used without in-out variables. For example, getting individual date components from a date is much simpler:

// built-in
var hour = 0
var minute = 0
calendar.getHour(&hour, minute: &minute, second: nil, nanosecond: nil, fromDate: NSDate())

// swiftified
let (hour, minute, _, _) = calendar.getTimeFromDate(NSDate())

As is fetching the range of the next weekend:

// built-in
var startDate: NSDate?
var interval: NSTimeInterval = 0
let success = cal.nextWeekendStartDate(&startDate, interval: &interval, options: nil, afterDate: NSDate())
if success, let startDate = startDate {
    println("start: \(startDate), interval: \(interval)")

// swiftified
if let nextWeekend = cal.nextWeekendAfterDate(NSDate()) {
    println("start: \(nextWeekend.startDate), interval: \(nextWeekend.interval)")

So take that, complicated calendrical math. With these new additions to NSCalendar, you’ll have your problems sorted out in no time.